My early motorcycling days

Caroline Ash

Pictures by Kevin Ash

Caroline learning to ride in Palace RoadCaroline learning to ride in Palace RoadSometimes life makes you do things outside your comfort zone. This has happened to me soon after I met Kevin. It was after a particularly frightening encounter on the underground travelling back to Kevin’s place late at night. That evening I made a decision to learn to ride a motorbike, just as Kevin had to tried to encourage me to do. On a bike, he pointed out, I could go anywhere, whenever I wanted and be in full control of my life.

Now, years later, I am so grateful Kevin gave me that skill.

Seven years later, I passed my driving licence; again after Kevin convinced me it would be better to be able to drive the car. By this stage we had two daughters who loved sitting in buggies and being pushed around instead of walking. I accepted that living in England without a driving licence is the same as not having a bicycle in Holland. They just go hand in hand.

Kevin and I lived in Streatham, south London, when he bought me a second hand MZ 125. Horrible bike, difficult to handle, or maybe that is what learners say, perhaps. I don’t have a picture of the bike, which, I think sums up my feelings for it. As I found the handling hard, it taught me to concentrate and master good throttle control. I also found the problem with the front brake, which was either 'on' or 'off' with little in between.

I practiced riding the MZ on Palace Road, tactfully annoying households a little further away than our immediate neighbours. I improved in a short time with Kevin instructing me, despite me being a pain in the behind, to put it nicely. This was much more to do with Kevin being the most patient teacher you can imagine than my biking ability. He was to teach me how to drive a car years later.

I learned the Highway Code and Kevin quizzed me on it.

I remember struggling to answer the question of the order of the traffic lights. Warning, I still struggle to tell the order. Maybe it's best not to meet me at a junction.

The test took place in the Croydon test centre. I had to ride there by myself. Surely, I thought, that must be a test in itself? If I get there and back in one piece, without too much damage in my wake, that should be enough? What are they going to say if I fail?

“Sorry, you haven't passed, have a pleasant ride home." Bizarre.

Well, I failed. Actually, I think I passed but the bike failed. I passed the theory test, as they didn't quiz me on traffic lights. I also passed the little whiz round the block, where the examiner steps out of the pavement and you have to slam your brakes on in a controlled way. As the examiner didn’t know the lack of controllability of my bike, he wasn’t aware how was lucky he was to be able to step back on the pavement.

Caroline learning to rideCaroline learning to rideCaroline learning to ride on Palace RoadIn what looked like a scruffy car park I had to perform some handling skills. First, some weaving in and out of cones which I knew I could do, next was the test where you ride at 30mph toward four cones, placed as a small square, and then come to a stop between the cones. My downfall. I rode up, checked my speedometer, which said 30mph. So far, so good. Then the cones loomed. I pulled the front brake in and nothing happened, I pulled it a little harder and then the bikes stopped dead, outside the cones. The brakes were either on or off, little in between. Had I done this test first, I am sure the examiner would not have been so casual in stepping off the pavement in front of my bike.

I rode home, very disappointed, with the offending “failed” slip of paper folded up in my coat. I could feel it burning a hole in my pocket. I thought everybody could see I hadn't passed.

“I blame the bike." I said to Kevin when I arrived back, "You try!”, and he promptly failed the cone test too. If Kevin couldn’t park the MZ in between the four cones then I think there was hope for me yet! Out went the MZ and in came the Honda 125. Black and shiny, a lovely bike. I passed without any problems a few weeks later. So blaming one's tools can be correct.

shuggiemac's picture
Joined: 23/11/2008

This has made me smile and brought back memories of my own test times. At least you had a bike of your own as, at that time, I was a very cash strapped apprentice and thus had none. I managed to borrow a Kawasaki KH100 from a friend for a couple of days before the test as well as the day itself. I managed to prepare in the best possible way by taking a long ride down the east coast from Edinburgh towards North Berwick, the evening before the day of reckoning. All went swimmingly well until I managed to hit a huge patch of diesel and came off the bike in the middle of the A1. I can remember quite vividly sliding down the road and seeing the faces of a laughing family, in what I think was a silver Nissan, as they passed in the opposite direction. Luckily there was no lasting damage to either myself nor the bike and it at least was still ready for the test. In spite of being a bit stiff I managed to pass and I remember the wonderful feeling that I had when I got the word from the examiner.

Kevin was correct about going anywhere at any time and that piece of paper made the crash worth it, as the whole bike experience has indeed taken me to many places but perhaps even better is, that it has led me to some wonderful people too.

Navy Boy
Joined: 12/02/2009

Well said Shuggie.

I had to pass my motorcycling test twice. Once in South Africa, where I grew up and secondly when I returned to the UK. Believe it or not the South African test was simply riding through a set of cones inside a painted box followed by a ride around the block. I borrowed my girlfriend's Honda CB900F to do it on.

Caroline's words took me back to that time and the feeling of relief when one's informed of the pass.

Joined: 28/05/2013

That is a cool way of passing a motorcycle test. I never took a motorcycle or car test before I came to live in England, but I rode around on a scooter, as most of us did in six form. Nothing was needed for that, apart from a helmet. I am pleased I did not have to take two tests, one is bad enough. Especially if you fail the first time round.

Captain Scarlet
Captain Scarlet's picture
Joined: 01/12/2009

I took my test on my seventeenth birthday in the early 80's. I rode a DT125MX, which had also taught me to ride (and crash!) off-road.

Being a skinny yoof, looking like a Motley Crue reject, I was wearing 'spray-on' jeans. As I rode away from my house, I notice that it was. How cna I delicately put this. Cutting off my circulation within the posing pouch my too-tight jeans were creating.

Being of athletic build and flexibility at the time, I decides to stand on the foot-pegs, whilst riding along, and do the 'wiggle-shake' to gravitationally re-arrange and redistribute the truncheon and plums situation.

Just as my invigorated circulation restored a smile to my chops, the right foot-peg decided to sheer itself clean off, requiring a Marquez style deft dab of the sole of my Rebook trainer against the road to ping my skeletal frame upwards suffice to just about hang on Wayne Gardner style (if you've ever seen 'that' amazing picture) without crashing - in my oh-so-protective denim jacket and plastic (no-less) ski-gloves - why wear motorcycle gloves, they're sooooh expensive, and kinda like buying a brand new helmet rather than using an ill-fitting hand-me-down scratched Boeri / Bell (del as applic) from your bigger greebo brother, right?

Oh, pooh (or words to that effect) I thought to myself. What to do? Ah, don't sweat it, the Test Examiner will never notice, they're all idiots! Right? :-(

So I arrive at Stevenage (where Vincent used to be made) and make my way to the test center. Three examiners come out and I think to myself, I'll be okay as long as I don't get the guy with a beard - never trust a man with facial hair unless his name is Magnum was my mantra back in them days. You guessed it.

So Mr. Troglodyte came and said my name in that rather patronizing mono-tone kind of way. And I sheepishly picked up my badly scratched lid and gloves and began to leave the building. In my head I could hear this dialogue coming from the weirdy-beardy one that went along the lines of, 'Bastard's the name, but you can call me right-bleadin, all my friends do' sort of thing.

Anyhoo, old pipe and carpet slippers man told me to right to the corner and turn left, then along and left again, a bit more then left, and a little way again before left again. Even a numpty like me couldn't funk that up could I? And then it started to rain... heavily.

Well the riding around in circles, or 'squares' to be more exact, came pretty easily. Mirror, signal, turn... over-exagerate the observation aspects by making like a moto-cross riding praying mantis.

But when I came to the High Street I was riding along, minding my own business, thinking to myself how nice it is when your tackle is no longer pinched in your jeans, when Mrs. Myopic and gigantium stroller buggy decides to jay-walk right in front of me, in a rather spectacular - sorry head-banger, I didn't remotely see you, kind of way.

Adopting a quick Schwantz style - 'See God, then brake' attitude in earnest, I managed to balance my braking to perfection, the 'viscious' bite from the rear 'drum' brake (no less) doing it's part, despite a distinct lack on six-piston mono-bloc radial calipers with ABS, traction-control, brake-assist and panties-in-a-bunch backup.

When I eventually returned to the test center, Shaggy (it's a Scooby-Doo thing) said to me, that he didn't feel the need to make me do an emergency stop as I'd had to do a real one.

When I dismounted, I deliberately stood on the right of my bike to hide the fact that I was riding illegally with no foot support. But to my surprise Examiners are 'not' stupid after-all... go figure!

He said that he was surprised that I controlled my bike so well... considering I'd been 'dangling' it in the air that last twenty minutes and that it must really ache by now!

Well he signed the slip that said I could now go out a buy something big to scare myself with. And after doing so, he even gave me a friendly smile and patted me on the shoulder, rather like one might a Husky puppy (that's a dog, not a trials bike btw).

I came to realize that I shouldn't judge a book by its cover. Even the old Zach Galifianakis look-a-like wasn't a mainlining meth-head after all. HE was actually a very kind and polite gentleman. And probably wore trendy wellies when riding his K75 home that evening.

So that was that. Oh, not quite. I had to retake my test again in the States when I moved here. I arrived at the place. The guy asked me my name and how long I'd been riding. I said since I was ten years old, so about thirty years. That was about the extent of the test... ;-D

Joined: 13/03/2011

Third time lucky,

I feel I must now confess it took three tries at passing my motorbike licence.

Way, way back in 1966 I rode a second hand Honda 150 Bently.

On the first try the examiner asked which handlebar lever was the clutch. I couldn't remember. He failed me on the spot and I had to push the bike home.

On the second attempt a few weeks later I got to the actual road test but on the way back I cut off a bus and again was sent packing.

The third attempt I finally got lucky. Two bikes went together. Me on my Honda 150 and another chap on a Norton 750 Atlas. He didn't want to pass me and I never went over 25 MPH. I can still remember him reving the Atlas behind me. We both passed.


kharli's picture
Joined: 24/01/2012

Hehe first time was just as bad. I had only ever ridden off road when a mate of mine hired a bike for the test ,so we both applied . I never got to take the test.
The examiner asked me what lessons and experience I had he looked at me in trainers jeans and no gloves , and told me to go home shaking his thirty years later it took me best part of a thousand pounds and two goes ...
However my mate allowed me to take the bike back to London ,some 35 miles ,to the hire shop..
I somehow survived that . I cant remember what bike it was.(or even if I was insured and allowed to ride!!)
I do remember a lovely summer day and the foolishness of youth :)
My first fail was annoying ..I had misheard the exit I was supposed to take on a roundabout and upon suddenly realising what the examiner actually meant did a quick lifesaver (no traffic about) and stupidly decided to change my approach lane to one more suitable . The examiner said he couldn't understand why I did that in what was otherwise a perfect ride ..(apart from being overly cautious with an approaching bus) (meant a car behind overtook even though bus had right of way)

Joined: 28/05/2013

I am pleased I didn't have these problems when I took my test.
Fun to read how others got on taking their motorcycle test.
It is a shame the government has changed the test beyond recognition. When I took the test it had a lot more casual laid back attitude. To pass now, you have to jump, (not literally with your bike) through lot more hoops then I had to. I think it is 9 separate sections, if you start learning at 17. I wonder what have I missed when I was learning? If Kevin had told me "Caroline just 8 more tests before you get your licence" , I might not have had the stamina to see it through. One test was plenty for me. So I think we had it easy!

nessychris's picture
Joined: 17/12/2008

If your still riding like a loon, I'm selling my old Bell Tourstar on ebay Captain!